Specifically, I'm interested in how we should teach our daughters about being a lady who is pleasing to God.
How do we transfer ideas to our daughters of ladylikeness -- encouraging and empowering them to display the unique and beautiful qualities God has created women to display-- without placing an unnecessary, extrabiblical burden on them (pressure to be a debutante, an expert quilter, fashionista, or gourmet chef)?
How do we teach things like modesty, charity, purity, servanthood, and how can we instill a desire (rather than a heavy feeling of obligation) to be a blessing to others, to nurture life, to be a helper to a husband one day, to be a kind and loving mother to children one day?
"Encourage [train] the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored." -Titus 2:4-5I want to share some practical ways I have thought of and intend to carry out to instill desirable qualities into this precious daughter and any others God may give us.
CONSIDER THESE THINGS FROM THE START
Modesty, charity, and servanthood are not qualities that will just naturally appear in our daughters.
By and large, human beings are bent toward narcissism, selfishness, and treating others as subject to themselves. If we want our daughters to be not obsessed with self (particularly in this self-obsessed generation), and instead, for her to dress, behave, and be oriented in ways that honor others above herself, it will only happen with intentionality.
MODESTY IN CLOTHES?
I grew up with varying examples of modesty.
First, my own mother was a wonderful example. She taught me not to be unduly focused on my physical form. I remember her working at times to moderate her diet, or to add in exercise in order to tone her body, but there was not an inordinate focus on her body. She was humble, not paying much attention to herself one way or the other. She taught me by her example that she was more than merely her physical form; her body was not the focus of her heart or life.
Neither she nor I wore clothes that brought attention to our physical form, but neither of us were hiding and covering it either. We were feminine but not on display.
Second, I had friends with a variety of levels of modesty. Some wore dresses only. Some had rules about wearing shorts while swimming. Some required these things of their daughters. I have not had good experiences with legalism. While a woman who wears dresses from her own conviction can be a beautiful, lovely thing, a daughter who is forced into a conviction that is based on externals often turns out with dire results. For my part, I have not (for myself or for our daughter) taken on a conviction about the pants/skirt issue.
IS IT RESPECTABLE? IS IT OSTENTATIOUS?
But there is a particular standard I see in Scripture. The most helpful and specific "modesty passage" for me is this one, found in 1 Timothy 2:
"I desire then... that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works."In this Scripture that became extremely illuminating to me when we lived abroad, I see two issues.
First, *respect* is the issue.
When we moved overseas, to one place, and then another, and traveling to others still, this line in the sand became CRITICAL for my everyday life. I asked myself (and discussed with Doug), "What kind of attire is it that *respectable* women in this place wear?" What items communicate unequivocally that I am a woman to be respected? What items, if I wear them, will send subtle or not-so-subtle messages that I am NOT a woman to be respected.
(Some will argue, I am a human being, therefore I am worthy of respect no matter what I am wearing. And that is true. But that is a different issue than whether or not what we are wearing clearly communicates that we are a respectable woman within our particular context & culture.)
Second, *riches* are another issue in what we wear. Am I being ostentatious in what I wear?
This is also especially poignant for women today. Many people wrongly assume that since we're OK with gold and braided hair, that this is irrelevant. I believe the principle is still valid. We are not to be ostentatious in our wealth. The idea here is that a woman should not walk into our church, or be around us in some other context, and get the idea that she is of less value because her purse, her shoes, or her attire cost less than mine. There should not, in appearance or in reality, be an income level associated with following Christ.
So, for ourselves and for our daughters-- 2 questions illuminate this issue of modesty in what I believe is a helpful, biblical way:
- Is what I am wearing RESPECTABLE?
- Is what I am wearing financially OSTENTATIOUS?
NOW OR LATER?
From the start, when I went shopping for (and now with) my daughter, I intentionally looked for modest clothes. Yes, even when she is young, I want the same principles to be in place. I don't want there to come a time when I suddenly have to "impose" modesty on her because she's (gasp!/shock!/surprise!) starting to develop to be a young lady.
Culture plays a big part in our view of all of this.
In strict Islamic cultures, little girls can wear pretty much whatever they want until they begin menstruation, at which point they then must begin covering up head to toe. In American culture, even in the church, many parents often let little girls wear whatever they want... "Oh, she's only 3 and that tiny bikini is just too cute. We can be more choosy when she gets a little older," only to find that by the time their daughter is 8, her outfits are even more racy, and by the time she's 13, they've lost any control over what she's wearing (and likely doing).
I want my daughter to be modest in her appearance and in her heart. I want her wardrobe choices to facilitate purity rather than more easily seducing her (and others) into the oversexualized culture of this world.
Similarly, with charity and servanthood, I have worked to train her in this from the beginning, to never indulge selfishness, but rather to encourage generosity, empathy, and sensitivity toward others. I want her to see others as Scripture tells us to- as more significant than ourselves.
"Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share" - 1 Timothy 6:18
PRAISE WHAT IS PRAISEWORTHY
We must be intentional about what we praise.
If our daughters see us regularly referring to People magazine to see what the latest flesh-baring Oscars fashion looked like, and we pursue and praise beauty more than God, our daughters will rightly call us hypocrites when we encourage them to chase after God and pursue modesty.
We must not praise things that are not praiseworthy.
But we also must be careful to praise the things that we DO want them to imitate. When you see young ladies in your church or in a store who look radiant but not flirty, who eyes look beautiful but not because of inch-thick eye makeup, praise this to your daughters. Point it out. "Doesn't Mandy look beautiful this morning? And she's hardly wearing any makeup; but you can see the beauty of Christ in her eyes!"
When you see acts of kindness that are worthy of imitation, use it as an example. "Mrs. Christi is always so thoughtful. She brings meals over to anyone who has a new baby!" It just takes a new set of eyes to be tuned into what is praiseworthy and what is not, and then to bring these things to the attention of our daughters.
"With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord" - Ephesians 6:7-8
WE MUST BE LADYLIKE
If we tell them to be kind to the poor and needy, but then make snide remarks about the smell of a homeless man or refuse to be generous to a beggar because "they might waste the money on alcohol," they will see how we really feel about generosity and will follow what we DO rather than what we SAY.
If we watch shows or movies that have beautifully dressed, primped women having adulterous and premarital relationships with a variety of men, or we read unrealistic (or worse, sadomasochistic) "romance" novels, but then try to tell our daughters that marriage to one man for life is God's best design, we shouldn't be surprised when they "opt out" of God's design for what we've communicated is more desirable. We must be women who love our husbands well.
If we complain and gripe about housework and yell at our kids for the "mess they've made," we ought not be surprised when our daughters have a foul disposition toward serving in the home. We must be women who lay down our lives and serve our families with joy.
If we spend our days seeking ways to get away from our children, and hide ourselves from them and their legitimate needs, we should not be surprised if they grow and of their own will eschew having children of their own. We must be women who nurture and nourish life.
If we wear clothes tighter or shorter than we ought to, it is likely our daughters will too. On the flipside, if we wear clothes that are frumpy and unattractive, they may be lured into what the world says about what is beautiful simply because we are not modeling beauty ourselves. The Proverbs 31 woman had an awareness of fabrics (wool, linen) and colors (purple, scarlet).
In short, we must have the kind of character we want her to one day possess.
I can't teach what I don't know. If my daughter is going to learn these things (modesty, charity, and servanthood) I must learn to enjoy them and foster them in my own life.